Nowadays, LGBTQ+ Pride might seem like a big party, but it didn't start out that way. In 1969 New York City police regularly raided known gay bars, harassed patrons, and eventually started shutting the bars down for operating without state liquor licenses (even though, at the time, the NY State Liquor Authority refused to give licenses to any bar that served gay people). But on June 27, when the police came to shut down the Stonewall Inn, a bar that felt like home to drag queens, trans people, and gay teenagers, the gay and trans people who frequented the club started fighting back.
Newspaper coverage at the time claimed that the police pulled all of the people who were at The Stonewall Inn that night into the street (Christopher Street, which is still a largely queer neighborhood in Manhattan). And the rebellion began. Police officers took sledgehammers to the jukebox, the cigarette machine, and other parts of the bar (and "confiscated" the cash register), and Stonewall patrons threw anything they could at the police. They formed dance lines to taunt police officers and chanted words like "Occupy — take over, take over," "Fag power," and "Liberate the bar," according to The Atlantic. On the first night of what would become a nearly week-long rebellion that drew an estimated 1,000 people, 13 people were arrested and four police officers were injured, the NY Daily News reported at the time.
Many credit the Stonewall Rebellion as the beginning of the modern LGBTQ+ rights movement. It was the first time the American people could remember queer and trans people demanding to be treated better.
So, we spoke with three members of the STONEWALL Rebellion Veterans' Association (S.V.A), a group made up mostly of people who attended at least one of the nights of protest, to learn what it was really like to be part of a history-making moment. Ahead, read about their experiences in 1969, how they've seen Pride change over the years, and the advice they'd give to young LGBTQ+ people today.